I don’t think its hyperbole to say Monday’s Rose Bowl win over Alabama was one of the biggest wins in the storied history of Michigan football. However, despite the gravity of the moment, the play of the team on the field can’t be ignored and can serve as a valuable teaching tool to ensure one last victory in 2023.
The Wolverines had been nearly flawless up until this point, as evidenced by their now 14-0 record and ability to beat lesser opponents to sleep. However, there were certainly some flaws in Michigan’s game that could cause fans to worry.
Today we will take a look at some areas of concern and big mistakes that occurred in Pasadena, and why they will be important to shore up ahead of the National Championship against Washington.
The performance Michigan had on special teams on Monday was nothing short of pathetic. This was a special teams unit that had been solid all season, yet made a whole season’s worth of mistakes in one game.
These mistakes included two muffed punts — one of which was recovered by Alabama — and two poor snaps on kick attempts. Additionally, Michigan struggled in the punting game, averaging just 39.5 yards per punt, which contributed to Alabama consistently starting drives with solid field position.
How did Michigan's Jake Thaw hold onto this football after the muffed punt? pic.twitter.com/UO9ptAOf9k— Brad Crawford (@BCrawford247) January 2, 2024
It’s called the third phase of the game for a reason, and mistakes in this area can cost teams a win, or at the least make them too close for comfort like they did in the Rose Bowl. Against Washington, Michigan will need to be more crisp on special teams in order to keep the Huskies from gaining any advantages, especially on offense.
The Huskies boast one of the best offenses in all of college football and will surely be able to make Michigan pay if they are given good starting field position, whether it be by poor kick coverage or sloppy turnovers. Not to mention the fact that solid special teams play for Michigan could give it good field position to put more points on the board in what could become a shootout.
Short Passing Game
While Michigan’s offense was able to turn things around when it needed to in the final minutes against Alabama, it was tough to watch before that. One reason for this was Michigan’s struggles in the short passing game, which had been solid for most of 2023.
In the second half of the season, particularly in games against Maryland and Purdue, we had seen quarterback J.J. McCarthy be somewhat spotty with his accuracy. Those issues reared their ugly head again, as McCarthy struggled to complete a bevy of passes over the middle against Alabama’s stout defense. Additionally, receiver Semaj Morgan and running back Donovan Edwards both had critical third down drops that ended Michigan drives.
Issues like this will need to be cleaned up ahead of the title game in order to keep the ball consistently moving down field. This might not be a game where Michigan plans to throw it over the top frequently, so it’ll have to make sure it can complete high-percentage throws to keep the offense clicking.
Michigan’s defense was undoubtedly its most impactful phase of the game against the Tide. The defense got after Jalen Milroe for six sacks and virtually shut down Alabama’s passing game, especially on deep balls. However, with a matchup against one of the nation’s best offenses looming, it’s perfectly fine to nitpick.
Michigan had more than a few instances where it couldn’t bring down ball carriers at first contact. Milroe and running back Jase McClellan were more often than not the beneficiaries of Michigan’s poor tackling and were able to pick up additional chunks of yards. McClellan also put defensive back Mike Sainristil on skates to score the game’s first touchdown.
Tackling is important in any game, and can be the difference between five-yard runs and 50-yard runs. Fortunately, the Wolverines have been solid in this area for much of the season and regularly get 11 hats to the ball. Once again, though, Michigan has yet to face an offense of Washington’s caliber, so it can’t afford to provide extra opportunities to make big plays.